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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-25 11:26:00

Armour Hunter Mellowlink

12 30-minute episodes

Every so often, you encounter one of those forgotten series. An old show that’s good, but for some reason, never caught on as well as others. You say the name ‘Dragonball’ or ‘Sailor Moon’ or ‘Doraemon’ and there’s a good chance that even non-anime fans will at least be familiar with it. Then you have the Guyvers, the Mazinger Zs, the shows that have a decent-sized fanbase, but no recognition outside. And then you get to the Moldivers and the Gal Forces and the Sol Biancas and for all their quality, you might as well just give up there and then. Ain’t no way anyone other than you has heard of those ones. Filed alongside these unremembered shows is Armor Hunter Mellowlink, and if there was any justice in this world, it too would be considered one of the greats.

The story centres on Mellowlink Aliti, last surviving member of his platoon. His unit sacrificed for unknown reasons, sold out by corrupt officials and blamed for their deaths, as well as a whole bunch of other miscellanious crimes they had kicking around the office, Mellowlink is out for revenge on his former superior officers. Armed only with the outdated anti-mech rifle he was issued for that disastrous last mission, a weapon easily as tall as he is, Mellowlink is determined to make every last one pay for his comrade’s deaths, starting from the bottom of the pile up.

The show’s a spin-off of Armoured Trooper Votoms, a much larger series that, admittedly, I’ve yet to see. But while the larger details, like who the players are in the frequently-mentioned war are, are probably meaningless to anyone unfamiliar with the parent show, the story itself is easy to follow. Its your typical revenge story, but with giant robots, which makes it that much more interesting (giant robots make everything better, just try and deny it). Okay. slight exaggeration, but the giant robots are surprisingly more than a way of spinning money through toy and model kit sales. One of the interesting things about the show is that, for all the mechs – Armoured Troopers, or ATs – running around, Mellowlink never once uses one. It’s suggested that he’s part of an anti-AT squad, hence the gigantic gun and title. So, here you have a regular human, running around capping mecha 4-5 times his size. It’s amazing that it’s an ideat not utilized more often, since the fight scenes are nothing short of gripping. Seeing a single unarmed squishy human making sport of a squad of heavily armed and armoured combat suits is a sight to behold. It’s a shame that most shows tend to lean more toward the ‘unstoppable behemoth’ end of things, since it’s also a sight I’d love to see more often.

The other great thing about the show: the entire thing remains almost 98% bullshit deus ex machina-free. Okay, there’s one or two moments where Mellowlink gets exceedingly lucky, but the entire rest of the time it’s due solely to planning and skill. See your opponent dodge a certain way to avoid a booby trap? Set up another to catch him off-guard mid-dodge. Your opponent has a certain victory pose before killing an unarmoured opponent? Counter the pose and strike while he’s defenceless. Potential love interest demanding to join you in a fight where she’ll almost certainly be a liability? Wait for the obligatory ‘staring into each other’s eyes’ moment, then slug her in the gut, rendering her unconscious – and therefore safe – the entire fight. It’s a refreshing change to see a character win by fighting smart, rather than overpowering their opponent and just plowing through them. And the fact that, with hindsight, you can see how he’s planned all this in advance – a throwaway comment about a car jack is responsible for one of the most satisfying reveals in the show – makes it that much sweeter. Something I’d argue we need to see more of these days.

Mellowlink is a gem of a series. The show was made in the late-90s, so for anyone more familiar with the more polished animation of recent years, it’ll come as a complete culture shock. But the roughness of the art and animation just gives it a real charm you don’t see too often these days. Mellowlink is an excellent series, and a welcome change for anyone sick of power levels or giant robots designed as toys first and foremost.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-01 01:56:00

Blue Gender

26 30-minute episodes

Mankind sucks. You know it, I know it, even the Earth itself knows it. Thankfully, despite our immense propensity for failure, She’s not decided to do anything overt about it. Well, not that any of us knows, at least. Other worlds out there, on the other hand… not quite so lucky about it.

Yuji is a Sleeper. Infected with an unknown, seemingly incurable disease, he is placed into cryogenic storage for a year or two while a cure is worked on. Unfortunately, when he’s finally awakened, 20 years have passed and mankind is no longer in charge. Gigantic insects known as the Blue have wiped out the majority of humanity and forced the rest to the stars. A few scattered enclaves eke out an existence here and there, but by and large, this is not our world anymore. He’s found by a group of soldiers from Second Earth, an orbiting space colony where the remnants of humanity live. They’re looking for Sleepers to assist them somehow in their war against the Blue. Unfortunately, over the course of a few skirmishes, the unit is all but wiped out, leaving Yuji and Marlene, the only other survivor to make it to home base alone.

Blue Gender is a weird show. It forgoes many of the traditions you’d expect to see in virtually any show. Characters are vaguely introduced with original, non-generic designs and you expect them to be important later on. Except they’re not, and they won’t because they’ve just be eviscerated by a stag beetle the size of a minibus, all without any warning at all. Blue Gender is not shy about offing characters left and right by any measure, and it’s rare that anyone mourns them. Any other mech show, be it Real Robot (“war is hell) or Super Robot (“war is awesome and makes you a MAN!”), would at least have a flashback montage for the death of a long-running character, but not here. It makes a refreshing change, and it does keep you on your toes, since anyone and everyone’s a target, but it also makes it damn near impossible to care about anyone when you know they’re potentially seconds away from becoming bug bait. Literally, considering the majority of the deaths in the show are literal ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moments, sometimes comically so.

The other weird thing about it is the random sex scenes. They thin out a lot as the show progresses, but at the beginning, it seems like you can’t go ten steps without someone groping you. Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to highlight that everyone knows there’s a good chance they’re going to die horribly any second now and they’re desperately trying to find any kind of comfort they can whenever they can – several characters explicitly state this on more than one occasion – but when you see two women molesting each other in the middle of Ops while others look on, barely batting an eyelid, it starts looking a little less than credible.

Thankfully, the fight scenes are much more impressive. The Blue are remarkably resistant to damage, with the result being that a single bug can easily wipe out a whole platoon. Okay, so we’re talking about bugs with armour that can deflect bullets about half an inch in width, and it doesn’t help that the mechs in this show seem to be made of candyfloss and sunbeams as far as armour plating goes. In any case, the fight scenes are nicely fast-paced and suitably brutal. The mechs themselves receive remarkably little attention, and there’s virtually no fanfare whenever a new one is introduced. Indeed, other than one model, which has a very distinct plot-related hook to it, there’s every likelihood you won’t even notice a new model’s been rolled out until several episodes later.

The story itself is decent, if a little heavy-handed on the environmental message, though it all falls apart in the last episode. Blue Gender was released about five years after Evangelion had made its impact (no pun intended) on the scene, and for some unfathomable reason, someone on the production crew thought it’d be a fantastic idea to end this series with a similar metaphysical ending that, again, makes no goddamn sense. Fine enough, except, barring a few ideas about the Earth itself triggering an ‘extinction gene’, there’s no real reason for it. And don’t get me started on the ‘rocks fall, everyone in space dies THE END’ post script which literally comes out of nowhere, that was just taking the piss. In its defence, however, the last few episodes are dedicated to wrapping the story up neatly. Absolutely fantastic considering how many shows, both Eastern and Western wind up running the closing credits before the Big Bad Evil Guy’s corpse is even lukewarm.

Blue Gender is a fine action show that tries too hard in the final stretch and takes a wrong turn at Batshit Junction. Ignore the moments of misplaced titillation and the painfully bad closing minutes and you’re left with a solid series with some great moments and pleasingly icky enemy designs. And if that still doesn’t grab you, imagine its a Starship Troopers spin-off. With the casual nudity seen in both the show and the original movie, it’s a closer fit than you’d ever think, and that’s before you remember the power armour that they forgot to include in the film.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-06-25 16:48:00

Lunar Legend Tsukihime

12 30-minute episodes

You think you’ve got problems? Try being Shiki Tonho for an afternoon. for one thing, he’s having to move back to the family estate after the death of his father, meeting his sister for the first time since they were kids. For another, there’s a series of strange murders going on after dark in the area. And for another, he’s just zoned out and awoken in a pile of a girl he doesn’t recall dismembering for some reason.

Yeah, I’d say he’s got you beat.

Y’see, Shiki is blessed with suck. He has what is known as the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception. Dumb name, I know, but hear me out. What this does is let him see lifelines as a physical presence. Everything has them – you, me, cats, dogs, chairs, running all over us like scribbles. By running his trusty knife along these lines, he can effectively ‘kill’ the object, no matter what it is. Still doesn’t sound too great? Try imagining what would happen if he tried doing it to a block of steel. Or a building. Or the Earth.

As the story opens, Shiki is trying to get accustomed to his new life with his almost needlessly strict sister and their two maids. While taking some time out at a nearby park, he spaces out as a young woman passes by. When next he wakes up, he discovers he’s sliced her to pieces and, unsurprisingly, freaks the fuck out. When there’s no news of any dismembered women on the TV, he heads back to make sure it wasn’t a dream. He’s a little surprised when he not only meets the woman again, but she then proceeds to tell him, in great detail no less, exactly how he carved her up into 17 neat pieces. It turns out the woman, Arcueid Brunestud – Arc for short – is a vampire, and was on the hunt for another before Shiki sidetracked her into little pieces. As penance, she asks him to help her, since there’s no way she’d be able to stand up to her quarry in her weakened state, and he is somewhat responsible for her current predicament. Feeling just a little guilty, Shiki agrees, and soon realises that absolutely no one around him is exactly what they seem.

Tsukihime is part of the larger Type-Moon universe. If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve encountered it in the better-known Fate/Stay Night series, or the Melty Blood fighting games. Or at the very least, the phrase “A CAT IS FINE TOO‘ All of these take place in the same shared universe, though, Melty Blood aside, there’s very little crossover between them. Tsukihime was one of the first projects in this shared universe, and began life as a visual novel. The game, started as a simple piece of amateur work, quickly gained in popularity, becoming one of the most popular games of its kind, even compared to more professional commercial games. Japan being what it is, the game was swiftly snapped up and a manga and anime produced alongside it.

The original game is renown for two main reasons: first off, there’s the plot. Like all VNs, it features a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style form of play, eventually branching off into one of two distinct storylines. The writing, however, is widely regarded as exceptional, with some of the best world-building and character-based moments seen in the genre. Unfortunately, it kinda goes a little downhill when you encounter the other thing the game is famous for: the sex scenes. Y’see, both Tsukihime and Fate/Stay Night feature several fully-illustrated and scripted sex scenes, and while, in fairness, they are integrated far better than in most other games (none of this ‘Oh, she’s unconscious, perhaps loosening her clothes will make her feel better’ nonsense here) the writing is, well, painful to read. There is an option to turn these scenes off, but the game will always have a sad reputation as a hentai game, turning a lot of people off.

Thankfully/unfortunately, none of this is in the show. I say thankfully, because the sex scenes are, as I said, hard to read. I say unfortunately because much of the character of the game is somewhat absent from the show. Don’t misunderstand, it’s still well worth your time, just that much of the sparkle from the original source material has been lost in the transition. For one thing, the designs aren’t as visually pleasing, somehow becoming a lot flatter. Sure, the original art was a little amateurish, but it had character. In ironing out the creases, they’ve ironed out the detail and it hurts just a little. As for the writing, that’s mainly the fault of it being an adaptation. You’re constantly shown tantalising glimpses of a bigger world with more depth just around the corner. Of course, being a linear show, they can’t even begin to cover any of it, and with only 12 episodes, even what they do cover is fairly glossed over, vitally important clues and details being given a vague allusion to before being ignored. The pace, on the other hand, I’ll cheerfully blame on the writers. After the first main story arc, the entire thing grinds to a halt. Compared to the game, which carried the momentum with its writing and dialogue, it’s horribly slow, and compared to the manga, which carries it by being more action-packed, it’s positively glacial.

What the series does do that’s interesting, is give the proceedings a strange dream-like atmosphere. The show floats along idly, and it made me wish they’d capitalised on some of the weirder moments from the game: the words ‘this chair is an eyesore’ spring rapidly to mind, as does Arc ‘rewarding’ Shiki with a visit from one of her minions.

Watching Tsukihime, if you’re at all familiar with the parent series is frustrating. Again, it’s not entirely the fault of the show itself, though the bland designs certainly don’t help. By itself, it’s a nice primer to the universe as a whole, and in tandem with the manga, a far less daunting excursion to the series than the game alone would be. As a show itself though, its disappointing. Nothing happens for long periods of time, and it doesn’t help that it keeps dropping hints at the bigger picture, making you wonder if you’ve just seen something significant or not. If you’re looking for a basic introduction to the Type-Moon universe – something I’d highly recommend, for what it’s worth – this is a decent place to start. If you’re looking to watch a solid show, on the other hand, check out Fate/Stay Night or Kara No Kyoukai.

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